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New students march into Northwestern family

Wildcat Welcome launches a new academic year in a sea of families and purple pride

Northwestern University celebrated its Wildcat Welcome orientation this weekend as nearly 2,100 new students joined in the 10th annual, festive March Through the Arch today amid a sea of proud parents, family, friends and purple pride.

Wildcat Welcome kicked off with the Northwestern Marching Band playing fight songs and spectators waving purple and white pompoms as Class of 2022 first-year students and new transfer students marched through the Weber Arch and on to the Evanston campus. 

Related: Words of love for the Class of 2022

A crowd of well-wishers clad in purple t-shirts, sweatshirts, fleeces and caps waved them on, including President Morton Schapiro and Provost Jonathan Holloway, as they stepped across Sheridan Road at Chicago Avenue. Mascot Willie the Wildcat carried some new students on his shoulders.

'We love you'

“Welcome to Northwestern,” declared President Schapiro when the marchers and their families assembled later on Deering Meadow. “We’re very excited to have you here. We know you could have gone anywhere. We love you, and we’re lucky to have you.”

The President gave a shout out to the 1,936 first-year students and the 162 new transfer students starting their Northwestern experience, wished them well and reminded them to thank their parents, families, friends and supporters who helped prepare them for this day.

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“You wouldn’t be here without your families, so I want you to thank them, hug them and tell them you love them,” President Schapiro said. He also told the students to enjoy their time at Northwestern but remember to “take care of each other.”

“I’ve been doing this for 10 years now, and we’ve never had better weather,” he added, looking out over the huge crowd assembled on the green meadow under bright sunshine in front of Deering Library. “It bodes very well for your time here. Go ‘Cats!”

'A new phase for her — and for us'

Standing near the arch, Felicia and Neal Williams of Cincinnati, Ohio, cheered on their first-year student daughter, Camille Williams, 18, who will be studying journalism at the Medill School of Journalism, Media, Integrated Marketing Communications — after earning some of her first bylines this past summer interning for the Cincinnati Herald.

“I’m so proud of Camille, so proud and excited, and I’m crying, because it will be a new phase for her — and for us,” said Felicia Williams, 53. “Camille is extremely talented and hardworking. She wants to dabble and experiment with all forms of the curriculum at Medill to learn and see what she wants to do for her career.”

"I pushed in my last thumbtack for her." - Neal Williams, father of first-year student Camille Williams

Camille Williams had choices of other good schools, her mother said, but she chose Northwestern mainly because of Medill’s admitted-student gathering and what she learned there, as well as the example of all the “successful alumni and the network they provide” for Medill graduates working in the business.

Neal Williams, 53, praised his daughter’s determination and hard work that got her to Northwestern. In addition to the unpaid internship Camille Williams did this past summer at the newspaper, she also worked a summer job at the Cincinnati public library for income.

“I pushed in my last thumbtack for her,” said a smiling, wistful Neal Williams, noting he and Felicia had helped settle their daughter in her new home in Shepard Residence College. “I pinned up the last poster, emptied the trash, there’s nothing left for me to do.”

“So far everything is going smoothly,” Camille Williams said. “I’m trying to just go with the flow and get decent sleep!”

Weeklong orientation

Parents and families followed their students on the march to Deering Meadow for a few remarks by Northwestern and Evanston officials, alumni leaders and Student Affairs representatives and then went through the “Kiss ’n’ Bye” ritual of saying fond farewells to their loved ones.

The day kicks off a week of Wildcat Welcome activities, Northwestern's weeklong orientation for all new students, and includes discussions of college transition issues, advising and course registration for their first quarter. It injects purple pride, explains how to navigate University opportunities and gives new students a chance to meet their class.

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It includes orientation events and activities, ranging from a class photo to a trip to Six Flags Great America, where the new class has the whole theme park to themselves. One of the highlights of the week is a series of True Northwestern Dialogues, which are a cornerstone of Wildcat Welcome and focus on what it means to be a student in this community and how to thrive here.

Among the officials greeting the students at Deering Meadow today (Sept. 22) was Evanston Mayor Steve Hagerty, who welcomed the new class and transfer students warmly to their new home.

“You made it,” the Mayor said. “You made it to one of the finest cities in America and one of the finest universities in the world. I am so proud to be a part of this. I am looking out at this meadow, and I see the young people who will create the future.”

Mayor Hagerty made a special point to tell the students they are welcome in their new home. “You are now residents of our city for the next four years,” he said. “I want you to be respectful of others and to know you are respected. I want to remind you to be kind to one another and to look out for one another. Also, have some fun while you are here. Take care of yourselves. We’re blessed to have you here. Go ‘Cats!”

Students came from near and far

One family saying their goodbyes actually rode their bicycles to Wildcat Welcome at Northwestern today (Sept. 22) from their home in Wilmette. Jason Paul was saying goodbye to his brother, Stephen; his father, Mark, and his mother, Alison Chang, who is already part of the Northwestern family. Jason Paul will be studying electrical engineering in the McCormick School of Engineering. Chang is associate professor, Physical Therapy and Human Movement Sciences, at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.

Reflecting on Wildcat Welcome celebrations, he said, "My main takeaway was how exciting it was for all of us to be starting a new chapter of our lives together. It's not often so many people go through a big change like that all at the same time."

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At the other end of the distance spectrum, listening to the speakers and lingering on the steps of Deering Library, was first-year student Devin Shen, 17, who was born in Beijing, arrived to the United States from China when he was 8 and grew up in the East Bay area near San Francisco. He said he plans to major in civil engineering at the McCormick School of Engineering, with a minor in computer engineering. He said he would turn 18 on the first day of classes Sept. 27.

“Northwestern stood out from all the other colleges for me, because it has the right mix of academic and social opportunities,” Shen said. Asked how he felt about being at Northwestern and starting his new life here, he smiled and quoted a song lyric from the popular musical Hamilton, “Get your education, don’t forget from whence you came and the world’s going to know your name.”

- Photos by Jill Norton

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